Five Ways That China Controls the Internet

By Lu Chen
Lu Chen
Lu Chen
June 11, 2014 Updated: June 10, 2014

According to the Chinese Communist Party’s own media, the Internet has become the “main battlefield of ideology.” Maintaining the upper hand in ideological warfare has always been a priority for China’s ruling regime.

It has taken systematic measures, therefore, to control information and public opinion on the Internet.

“You could never hope to see the truth of things from the internet in China,” wrote Hong Yuning, an analyst, in a commentary for New Tang Dynasty Television, a primarily Chinese-language broadcaster.

His analysis discussed the “five dark tricks” that the Party uses to manage the Internet, which are summarized below.

Deleting Information

The first method is to maintain control over the Internet management departments in online companies and organizations. They are required to monitor, 24/7, their comment sections, news posts, and blogs, to prevent “harmful information” from being posted.

Posts deemed “harmful” (that is, unfavorable to the authorities) are then quickly censored.

To bolster this process, the Chinese authorities created a new law governing Internet speech last year, saying that whoever publishes “rumors” that are forwarded over 500 times, or viewed over 5,000 times, can be found guilty of “defamation” and face prison time.

The regime has punished Internet commentators using these laws, the most well-known case being that of Qin Huohuo. Qin (not his real name) was sent to prison for three years for writing posts on social media about corruption.

‘50 Cent’ Commentators

While Chinese Internet censors delete comments, there are also gangs of so-called “50 cent,” or “wumao,” commentators, who make positive remarks on behalf of the government.

The term comes from the Chinese word for 50 cents, because they are reported to be paid 50 Chinese cents for each post. (The amount they are really paid is not known for sure, and probably varies.)

50 cent commentators frequently fill up the comments section following controversial news articles, attempting to flood out those with critical views, or sway bystanders using groupthink psychology.

Chinese authorities have given the job an official title: “Internet public opinion manager.” There are advanced training courses and programs given to individuals in this line of work, who learn better how to manipulate public opinion and create a favorable public opinion environment for the Communist Party.

Chinese media reported that there were over two million “public opinion managers” of this kind that had been certified last year. More are on the way.

Controlling Hot Topics

News items that look like they are going to go viral are a major focus for Communist Party propaganda authorities. Articles that reflect too negatively on the regime are stopped in their tracks, while the top places on major websites, such as Baidu and Sina, are often reserved for the Party’s own propaganda.

The idea is to maintain an overall environment on the Internet that supports Communist Party rule, and gives the impression to the general Internet user that the Party enjoys widespread support. Hong dismissed the efficacy of the project. “It’s only fooling itself, and no one really cares.”

Building Party Cells

The Chinese Communist Party is a Leninist organization that, according to its theory of rule, seeks to penetrate every aspect of society to bolster its control. It also ensures control over Internet companies through this Party apparatus.

At least nine major Internet companies have established Party Committees, which exert the Party’s direct line of political and ideological control over firms. Committees deliver the Party’s recent theoretical messages, influence or make personnel decisions, and surveil employees to ensure that they do not harbor thoughts against the regime.

Web companies that contain Party cells include Baidu, Sina, and Kaixin, according to Chinese media reports.

Often, the leader of the Party Committees are high-level executives who make business decisions. The system is one of the key ways that the Communist Party can maintain control over technology companies that are not formally affiliated with the state.

Blocking Overseas Websites

An unknown number of overseas websites—thousands, or more—are blocked by China’s “Great Internet Firewall.” Among the sites that ordinary Chinese are prevented from visiting are social media like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, plus websites associated with human rights in China, Tibetan activism, the persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual practice, and dozens of news organizations.

The Epoch Times website is, of course, also blocked.

Lu Chen